WASHINGTON — The Howard University Bison are heading to Iowa for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and fans showed up Tuesday afternoon to the university campus to send them off in style.
It was celebration outside Cramton Auditorium after the team sent a tweet inviting the community to show some support.
“We love Black men and always want to see them prosper,” said one senior who said the send off caps her Howard experience in style. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is a big deal!”
As a DJ played music, family, friends and fans braved the high winds and chilly temperatures to mark the historic moment.
“This year for us has been about legacy the opportunity to do something special that hasn’t been doing something in a long time,” Howard guard Jelani Williams told WUSA9 before boarding the team bus.
The Howard men's basketball team is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1992.
“I never thought it would take 31 years, but I’m happy we’re back and we hope to be there every year,” University President Wayne Frederick said.
It’s a full circle moment for Frederick who was an undergraduate the last time the Bison sent a team to the big dance.
“I hope what people see nationally, this is a great place with great young people who are dedicated to making a difference," Frederick said. "They come here to get the truth and then go out and apply in service to others ... This is a great reward for their hard work.”
Howard guard Bryce Harris huddled with his teammates as they looked at a recent Washington Post edition.
“They put me on the cover," he proudly exclaimed. "This is dope! I’m going to frame this! It’s a special experience -- work we put in at the beginning of year has paid off and we’re going to go handle business.”
Coach Kenneth Blakeney said his boys are ready for the challenge of taking on a number one seed.
“There’s a saying I say all the time, ‘what would the world be without Howard?’ Blakeney said. "If you want to build a championship team you have to build championship men and we’ve done that off the court.”
Howard guard Marcus Dockery shared his moment Tuesday with family, who happen to be fellow Bison.
"My mom went to Howard, and I did something different than what [she] saw when she was in school," Dockery said. "I just can’t put this into words what this means.”
"It’s so well deserved," his aunt Alena Mayo-Mills added. "He’s such a great kid all-around."
Howard will take on the Kansas Jayhawks in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday. Kansas (27-7) is the No. 1 seed in stacked West Region.
“There’s a lot of pressure on them, but they’re not going to let the pressure take over their mindset because they have a mindset to win,” team photographer Amaya Pratt said.
The West Region includes No. 2 UCLA, No. 9 Gonzaga, No. 11 UConn, No. 16 Saint Mary's and No. 22 TCU. Howard earned the No. 16 seed after taking down Norfolk State University by just one point.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Howard is one of the biggest underdogs in the tournament. Kansas is a 21 1/2-point favorite over Howard in their first-round matchup. But who doesn't love a Cinderella story?
The Bison last appeared in the NCAA tournament in the 1991-92 season, when it won the MEAC tournament after finishing as regular-season co-champions with North Carolina A&T with a 12-4 record.
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